CMT Celebrates Top Country Entertainers At ‘Artists Of The Year’ Ceremony Live In Nashville

Mary and Randy Travis speak onstage the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Last night (Oct. 13), CMT recognized some of this year’s biggest acts live from Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center at the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony.

Honorees included Chris Stapleton, Gabby Barrett, Kane Brown, Kelsea Ballerini and Luke Combs, alongside Breakout Artist of the Year Mickey Guyton and Artist of a Lifetime Randy Travis. Together these artists have produced some 200 career top 10 singles, won 130 awards and have been streamed over 25 billion times.

Luke Combs accepts an award onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

The evening kicked off with Combs performing “Forever After All,” and accepting his award from friend Eric Church. He thanked the fans and his wife, and gave a special call out to Randy Travis for his enduring influence on country music.

Next, Barrett was lauded by Grammy award-winning Christian artist Michael W. Smith who introduced a performance of her No. 1 hit song, “The Good Ones.”

Mickey Guyton and Yola perform onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Guyton, alongside friend and musician Yola, garnered the night’s first standing ovation with the world premiere version of “Remember Her Name.” The performance moved Guyton to tears, noting in her acceptance speech that “country music is really everyone’s music.”

The second standing ovation came when Garth Brooks awarded friend and country legend Randy Travis with the Artist of a Lifetime Award. Randy and his wife, Mary Davis Travis, accepted the honor as Mary thanked the fans on Randy’s behalf noting, “Randy’s stroke may have taken his voice, but didn’t take the man or the heart, and it didn’t take the music.”

Brown was introduced by friend Nelly before taking the stage to honor Randy with one of his biggest hits, “Three Wooden Crosses.” Brown accepted his own 2021 honor, thanking the fans and remembering his bandmate and drummer who passed away in 2019.

Chris Stapleton accepts an award onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Next, Grammy Award-winning artists Boys II Men, joined by Pentatonix’s Kevin Olusola, honored Stapleton with a first-ever performance of his song, “Cold.” Stapleton acknowledged being moved by all the “love in the room” as he accepted his award from friend and actress Connie Britton.

The final honoree celebrated was Kelsea Ballerini. Her husband, Morgan Evans, introduced her performance with tour-mates Jonas Brothers. Performing “With a Little Help From My Friends,” Ballerini accepted her award, thanking fans for their support.

The evening concluded with Walker Hayes who performed his smash viral hit, “Fancy Like.”

Gabby Barrett accepts an award onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Kane Brown performs onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Kelsea Ballerini accepts the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year award from her tour stop in Franklin, Tennessee, with the Jonas Brothers.

Walker Hayes performs onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Star-Crossed’ Deemed Not Eligible For Country Album Category At 2022 Grammys

Kacey Musgraves. Photo: Adrienne Raquel

Last week during the Recording Academy’s annual screening committee meeting, Kacey Musgraves‘ recent album, Star-Crossed, was rejected for Country Album of the Year eligibility at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards. The project will remain eligible for the all-genre Album of the Year category.

Musgraves, a six-time Grammy winner, released her fourth studio album Star-Crossed on Sept. 10 through MCA Nashville and Interscope Records. It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top Country Albums and No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

After the decision, President of Universal Music Group Nashville Cindy Mabe issued a letter to Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, expressing her disapproval of the decision.  She writes, “Kacey Musgraves is a beacon in a format ready to push back on the ideas that there is more than one way to succeed, there is more than one sound and perspective for what country music is and most importantly who it speaks to.”

Mabe highlights that Musgraves’ blockbuster album Golden Hour won both Album of the Year and Best Country Album, among other country honors, at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards. Mabe writes, “Sonically, [Star-Crossed has] more country instrumentation than Golden Hour which won Country Album of the Year in 2019.” Read Mabe’s full letter below.

Final nominees for this year’s awards will be revealed on Tuesday, Nov. 23. The 64th Annual Grammy Awards will be held at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 3, 2022.

Dear Harvey,

I am writing as a follow up to our recent conversation about the determination to exclude Kacey Musgraves’ album Star-Crossed from the Grammy’s country albums category. I am a big believer in the Grammys as an organization and have witnessed the power of its platform to transform artists’ careers and reflect, amplify and change culture. That certainly has happened for Kacey Musgraves over the last seven years with wins in 2014 for Country Album of the Year for Same Trailer Different Park, and then again in 2019 for Golden Hour as well as overall Album of the Year. The Grammy’s have been a destination of artist discovery and for Kacey it’s a place where her musical history was written.

As a prime stakeholder in country music, I would really like to frame what’s happening in our genre right now and help you and the Grammy’s fully understand the importance of Kacey Musgraves to country music and why this decision is so much more than an entry point for an awards show. Taking her out of the country category actually does harm to a format struggling with change and inclusivity overall. For the past several years, the stories around country music have been the stories of country radio and the limitations put on women’s voices or diversity of any kind from our key artists, their perspectives or their sound. The numbers speak and are a matter of public record with women making up only 10 percent of all country airplay. This year alone country music has been mired in the controversy surrounding one of the formats biggest artists, Morgan Wallen, who used a racial slur and grew fans and audience from it. THIS IS NOT ALL THAT WE ARE. Under the surface are the artists that change it all and they are led by the example of Kacey Musgraves.

Kacey Musgraves is a beacon in a format ready to push back on the ideas that there is more than one way to succeed, there is more than one sound and perspective for what country music is and most importantly who it speaks to. While that might not sound radical, I’ll remind you that our world believes you are either on country radio or you aren’t country. Kacey Musgraves is an extreme revolution and if Kacey can create her own path, others can too. She has taken the lead role of lighting the way of success in a format that has been so restricted by rules of who’s allowed in and what they can sing about. Artists like Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne and Mickey Guyton continuously site Kacey’s career path and music as an inspiration for their own success. My own artist Mickey Guyton has struggled for 10 years to be heard. It took the example of watching Kacey create her own path by living out her own truth in country music for Mickey to see what was possible and she followed suit laying out her perspective as a Black woman in America singing country music and re-writing history on your show last year.

Universal Music Group Nashville has launched every major label album Kacey Musgraves has put out. Kacey has always forged her own path. She has stayed true to herself and has never taken a different stance on how she framed this album from the last ones. Sonically, it’s got more country instrumentation than Golden Hour which won Country Album of the Year in 2019. To compare Golden Hour to Star-Crossed, both albums were produced by Ian Fitchuk, Daniel Tashian and Kacey Musgraves. Both albums were mixed by Shawn Everett. On Golden Hour, Ian, Daniel and Kacey wrote 7 of the 13 songs and on Star-Crossed they wrote 11 of the 15. Both albums complete each other with Golden Hour telling the story of falling in love and Star-Crossed telling the conclusion of the breakup. There is no departure in sound from these two projects. This album was consistently classified as country throughout it’s metadata and overall labeling across the DSP accounts and partners. Star-Crossed appeared on every major country playlist of every DSP. It’s being played on SXM The Highway, CMT and was covered by every country media outlet at release. This decision from the country committee to not accept Star-Crossed into the country albums category is very inconsistent and calls into question the other agendas that were part of this decision.

That takes us to the process. The idea that a handful of people including competitors, who would benefit from Kacey not being in the country category, are deciding what is country only exacerbates the problem. The system is broken and sadly not just for Kacey Musgraves but for our entire genre because of how these decisions are made for music’s biggest stage. Building roadblocks for artists who dare to fight the system is so dangerous and against everything I think the Grammy’s stand for. But that’s where we are today.

I haven’t slept all weekend because I’m really sad for our format. I’m sad for fans of our music and the ramifications of how we’ll continue to define success in country music. This short-sided, biased decision will send ripples throughout our format to continue to insure that the message is sent that country music can only be for the limited few that enjoy the same perspective.

Thank you for listening to my concerns.

Sincerely,

Cindy Mabe

Lauren Funk Joins Endurance Music Group As Senior Creative Director

Lauren Funk

Endurance Music Group (EMG) has added longtime songwriter advocate and publishing veteran Lauren Funk as Senior Creative Director, effective immediately.

In this role, she will be responsible for managing EMG’s relationships with its songwriting and artist roster, while also identifying new talent.

Funk joins EMG from Big Yellow Dog Music as Sr. Creative Director, where she spent seven years working with Grammy award-winning artists and songwriters Maren Morris, Meghan Trainor, Josh Kear, and Daniel Tashian. During her time there, she secured numerous cuts with artists like Gary Allan, Jessie James Decker, Sara Evans, Alan Jackson, Chris Lane, LoCash, Dustin Lynch, Michael Ray, Runaway June, Blake Shelton, Josh Turner and more.

Funk also helped develop Sony Music Nashville’s Tenille Townes, as well as signed songwriters Jim Beavers and Dave Pittenger. Her most recent signing was songwriter and producer Zarni deVette, who co-wrote Tigirlily’s “Somebody Does,” which debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes all-genre chart and neared the top of Billboard’s Country Digital Song Sales chart.

“Lauren’s passion for songs, songwriters, and artists is what makes her truly stand out as a creative director. She was fortunate to work closely with Carla Wallace, and to experience her leadership and the tremendous success of Big Yellow Dog,” shares Endurance President Michael Martin. “We are excited to welcome Lauren to the EMG family and kickstart her new creative journey together.”

She can be reached at lauren@endurancemg.com.

MTSU Unveils Plans For Commercial Songwriting Program’s New Campus Home [Interview]

New MTSU Commercial Songwriting Building. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

Nestled on the outskirts of Nashville in nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). With its Recording Industry department, including concentrations in Music Business, Commercial Songwriting, and Audio Production, the University is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Nashville music business.

Since beginning its Commercial Songwriting program in 2008 under the direction of professional songwriter Odie Blackmon (“I May Hate Myself In The Morning” by Lee Ann Womack, “She’ll Leave You With A Smile” by George Strait, “Nothin’ On But The Radio” by Gary Allan), the concentration has nearly doubled its enrollment, hosting 158 students this semester.

Nancy Jones, widow of country music legend George Jones in the Center for Popular Music visiting with commercial songwriting students in professor Odie Blackmon’s “Life and Music of George Jones” class. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

Called a “Grammy Factory” by NBC Nightly News, the program boasts many accomplishments, including award-winning alumni like Luke Laird, who has cuts by the likes of Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins, and Tim McGraw; Laura Rogers, one of the Secret Sisters; Erin Enderlin, who has written songs for Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack; country recording artists Chris Young and Mitchell Tenpenny; and many more.

MTSU’s Commercial Songwriting department also features eight adjunct faculty members who have ties to all parts of the industry, including alumni Dez Dickerson, founding member and guitar player of Prince & The Revolutions; Grammy-winning hip hop producer and songwriter Torrance “Street Symphony” Esmond (Yo Gotti, G-Eazy, 2 Chainz); No. 1 pop songwriter Shelly Peiken (“What a Girl Wants” by Christina Aguilera, “I’m a Mess” by Bebe Rexha); and more.

“We serve a lot of different types of songwriters. The classes are intimate, so there’s only around 12 students in a songwriting class. It’s been a joy creating the program,” Blackmon shares with MusicRow. “I’m most proud of the diversity of the faculty in the program, because it mirrors the diversity of our student body.

MTSU students in the Recording Industry program. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

“If you look at the different people that are teaching, we have all genres and backgrounds covered. Collaboration of people from different worlds and backgrounds is what makes great music,” he explains. “When you come to MTSU, you’re not in a bubble. We have a diverse faculty and student body, and we’re inclusive in nature. We’re open arms and we welcome all of the different people that come through our doors.”

Though not located directly on Nashville’s historic Music Row, MTSU has deservedly been receiving more and more attention over the last few years. The University has also celebrated many successful alumni within the music business, including Brian Wright, Executive VP, A&R at Universal Music Group Nashville; Kent Earls, publishing veteran and President of Kane Brown’s Verse 2 Music; Mike Molinar, General Manager of Big Machine Music; Daniel Miller, manager at Red Light Management and managing partner at Fusion Music; and award-winning producer Michael Knox (Jason Aldean, Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry); to name just a few.

With the growing exposure and student body, the Commercial Songwriting program will soon be moving into a new home on the campus.

The new Songwriting Center will include classrooms and a lounge area, both of which will be functional by January of 2022, as well as a state of the art beat lab, writers’ rooms, offices, a vending area, and an atrium fit for live performances for up to 300 people.

Rendering of new MTSU Commercial Songwriting Building. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

“[This new building] shows a commitment to the songwriting concentration, which is newer compared to the music business or audio,” Blackmon states. “It gives students confidence too. We’re going to have Gold and Platinum award plaques from different alumni line the walls so that when students walk down a hallway, they see people that have come before them that have actually done it. They’ll know they’re at the right place and that they can do this if they work hard.

“[Our students] deserve it and they’re going to get it at the cost of a state school education and not $60,000 a year,” he says.

Rendering of MTSU’s new Commercial Songwriting building floor plan. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

The project, which is expected to be completed in its entirety in January of 2023, has already received over $300,000 in funding, but still needs some help for the new equipment.

Post-COVID, Blackmon expresses plans for live performance fundraisers with students from the program. “Several years ago, Eric Paslay, who’s an alumni, did a show where students opened up and got the experiential learning of opening a show. Eric closed the show and we sold tickets and also got donations, so I plan on doing more of those.”

With much in store over the coming months, MTSU’s Commercial Songwriting program has the promise of a bright, hopeful future ahead for the department and its many students. To contribute to the fundraising efforts for the program’s new home, you can go to the MTSU development webpage or click here to make a tax deductible donation to the Songwriting Center.

For more information on MTSU’s Recording Industry program and the Commercial Songwriting department, click here.

Alan Jackson Warms Hearts With Hits And Stories At Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena

Alan Jackson at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Photo: Katie Kauss

Fans gathered to celebrate one of country music’s giants this weekend. Country Music Hall of Fame member Alan Jackson commanded the Bridgestone stage with charisma and pride during his hit-filled set on Friday night (Oct. 8).

After an entertaining opening set from James Carothers, who often plays at Jackson’s downtown establishment AJ’s Good Time Bar, Jackson came out swinging. He kicked things off with “Gone Country” and “Summertime Blues,” and played many of his the 35 No. 1 hits. He grinned ear to ear as he surveyed the crowd, constantly putting his hand to his heart to show his appreciation for the fans.

During a special portion of the show, Jackson took a seat on a stool and introduced some hits with their corresponding stories—just like he was at the Bluebird Cafe. Ultimately, Jackson expressed a ton of gratitude for his long and fruitful career.

“I’m not trying to brag, I just want to say thanks to people like y’all who have supported my music. It’s been a crazy ride,” he said before playing his first-ever hit “Here In The Real World.”

Jackson took us on a journey through his early days on Music Row before telling the crowd the story of his father’s radio that inspired the first line of “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.”

The lauded performer was presented with a plaque for garnering 5 billion streams on Pandora during the show. UMG Nashville’s Mike Dungan, Cindy Mabe and Annie Ortmeier joined Jackson on stage, along with Pandora’s Alina Thompson and Jen Danielson, to present the Hall of Famer with a commemorative plaque.

“I wish mama could have heard that. She wouldn’t have known what I was talking about,” Jackson humbly said before thrilling fans with “Pop a Top.”

Alan Jackson at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Photo: Katie Kauss

Also among Jackson’s setlist were his fun “Good Time” and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” as well as some of his deeper material like “Remember When” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene).”

During “Little Bitty” Jackson noticed his young fans in the crowd, including a kid at his first concert. Bridgestone roared for “Chattahoochee,” holding up t-shirts that said “hotter than a hoochie coochie.” They swayed and cried to “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” holding up their cell-phone lighters.

During another portion of the show, Jackson invited his daughter Ali out to sing “You’ll Always Be My Baby,” a song from his new album Where Have You Gone. Family photos flashed behind the two as they sang the touching song.

Jackson closed the heartwarming show with a double encore of “Mercury Blues” and “Where Have You Gone,” his yearning anthem to traditional country music.

The crowd ate up every word.

MusicRow’s Publisher Issue Features Bradley Family, Nashville Publishing State Of The Union, More

Nashville’s leading music industry publication MusicRow Magazine has released its 2021 Publisher Issue print edition, featuring Mercury Nashville’s Lauren Alaina on the cover.

In the 2021 Publisher Issue, MusicRow does a deep dive into the First Family of Music Row—The Bradleys—chronicling their impact on the Nashville music business and beyond. Members of the Bradley family discuss their history in Nashville and the legacy that their family has created. Featuring conversation with Clay, Jerry, and Patsy Bradley, this issue highlights some of the family’s greatest achievements and showcases treasured photos from over the years.

This issue also includes a conversation between UMPG’s Troy Tomlinson, Warner Chappell’s Ben Vaughn, Sony Music Publishing’s Rusty Gaston, Creative Nation’s Beth Laird, and Big Machine Music’s Mike Molinar as the group of publishing giants give an update on the state of Nashville publishing in 2021 and the ever-growing importance of songwriting in the world today. “I delusionally believe that music has the absolute power to change the world for a better place. That’s what attracts us to songwriters,” Gaston shares. “[We look for someone] who has that natural heart for translating a real human emotion, something that we all connect with–whether that emotion is about love or loss or about that feeling of needing to clock out on Friday and relax with a beer.”

Also on tap, Tree Vibez Music’s Leslie DiPiero and Verse 2 Music’s Kent Earls explain the process behind artist-led publishing ventures. Focusing on the work of Florida Georgia Line and Kane Brown, this issue captures their separate journeys within the publishing realm so far as they continue building their own empires, as well as what they look for in writers when adding to their rosters.

Elsewhere, the Publisher Issue offers conversations with Anthem Entertainment’s Tim Wipperman as he reflects on 35 years in the music business, while also looking forward to future success at Anthem Entertainment as he helms the ship. Additionally, Black River Publishing’s Rebekah Gordon takes us inside the world of indie publishing as she discusses their solid roster of a dozen songwriters and her journey to becoming VP of Publishing.

MusicRow also catches up with CEO of The MLC, Kris Ahrend, to talk about the organization’s launch and first year of operation in Nashville.

The 2021 Publisher Issue also highlights the work and careers of some of Nashville’s most in-demand songwriters, including Sony Music Publishing’s Michael Carter, Big Loud/UMPG’s Ernest, Warner Chappell’s Martin Johnson, Sheltered Music’s Alex Kline, UMPG’s Lee Thomas Miller, and breakout country artist Brittney Spencer, who is self-published.

This annual resource includes the 2021 Publisher Directory, listing Nashville’s top publishing companies, as well as organizations and services available for songwriters.

Single copies of MusicRow’s 2021 Publisher Issue are available for purchase at musicrow.com for $45, and are included with yearly MusicRow memberships.

Zac Brown Band Reach MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart Peak

After a steady 17 week climb, Zac Brown Band graces the top of the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart with “Same Boat.”

“Same Boat” was written by Brown, Ben Simonetti, and Jonathan Singleton. It appears on the band’s upcoming album, The Comeback, set for release Oct. 15 via Warner Music Nashville/Home Grown Music.

Zac Brown recently canceled several upcoming tour dates due to a positive COVID-19 test. He has since resumed the tour.

Click here to view the latest edition of The MusicRow Weekly containing the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart.

On The Cover: Lauren Alaina Graces The Cover Of MusicRow’s 2021 Publisher Issue

MusicRow Magazine has released its 2021 Publisher Issue print edition, with Mercury Nashville’s Lauren Alaina gracing the cover.

Alaina recently released her third studio album, Sitting Pretty On Top Of The World, which includes her current radio single “Getting Over Him” with Jon Pardi. As a co-writer on 14 of the project’s 15 tracks, the album reflects on the mountains and valleys of her journey over the years.

Alaina has received an array of RIAA certifications over the last decade, including Gold-certified “One Beer,” “Road Less Travelled,” “Getting Good,” “Doin’ Fine,” and “Like My Mother Does,” as well as the six-time Platinum “What Ifs” with Kane Brown. With multiple ACM, CMA, Billboard, and CMT Award nominations under her belt, the multi-faceted entertainer also starred in the film Roadhouse Romance on the Hallmark channel this fall and will release her book Getting Good At Being You on Nov. 23.

This annual resource includes the 2021 Publisher Directory, listing Nashville’s top publishing companies, as well as organizations and services available for songwriters.

In the 2021 Publisher Issue, MusicRow does a deep dive into the First Family of Music Row—The Bradleys—chronicling their impact on the Nashville music business and beyond. UMPG’s Troy Tomlinson, Warner Chappell’s Ben Vaughn, Sony Music Publishing’s Rusty Gaston, Creative Nation’s Beth Laird, and Big Machine Music’s Mike Molinar give an update on the state of Nashville publishing in 2021; while Tree Vibez Music’s Leslie DiPiero and Verse 2 Music’s Kent Earls explain the process behind artist-led publishing ventures. This issue also offers conversations with Anthem Entertainment’s Tim Wipperman as well as Black River Publishing’s Rebekah Gordon. The MLC’s launch and first year of operation is also a focus of this year’s Publishing issue as MusicRow talks with CEO Kris Ahrend.

MusicRow’s 2021 Publisher Issue also highlights the work and careers of some of Nashville’s most in-demand songwriters, including Sony Music Publishing’s Michael Carter, Big Loud/UMPG’s Ernest, Warner Chappell’s Martin Johnson, Sheltered Music’s Alex Kline, UMPG’s Lee Thomas Miller, and breakout country artist Brittney Spencer, who is self-published.

MusicRow‘s annual Publisher Issue highlights those publishers and tunesmiths that create the foundation and cornerstone of our industry,” says MusicRow Magazine Owner/Publisher Sherod Robertson. “From the informative Publisher Directory and the songwriters highlighted on these pages, to the in-depth narratives discussed in the featured articles, this important resource and guide supports the creative talents of our industry’s songwriters and publishing teams.”

Single copies of MusicRow’s 2021 Publisher Issue are available for purchase at musicrow.com for $45, and are included with yearly MusicRow memberships.

DISClaimer Single Reviews: Luke Bryan, Zac Brown Band, Morgan Wade

Luke Bryan. Photo: Jim Wright

This productive listening session perfectly mixed country newcomers and stars.

In the latter category are fresh offerings from Blake Shelton, Dustin Lynch, Justin Moore, the Zac Brown Band and Dierks Bentley (with the James Barker Band). Also, our Disc of the Day winner, Luke Bryan.

Vying for newcomer attention are Walker County (again), Georgia Webster (again), Misty River, the James Barker Band and our DisCovery Award honoree Morgan Wade. Some folks might need to get over her tats-and-piercings visual presentation, but the proof is in the listening. The gal is gifted.

GEORGIA WEBSTER / “Box of Memories”
Writers: Georgia Webster; Producer: Paul DiGiovanni; Label: Sony/River House
— Audio heartbreak. Over steady, slow piano chords, she delivers a trembling, cracked, lovely ballad of loneliness and reflection. Promising.

LUKE BRYAN / “Up”
Writers: Jeremy Bussey/Taylor Phillips/Bobby Pinson; Producer: Jeff Stevens/Jody Stevens; Label: Capitol
—Beautifully produced, with airy, echoey space around Luke’s vocal. The melodic song holds snapshots of simple country living. Faith is the key. An endearing single with a new sonic direction for this superstar.

JAMES BARKER BAND & DIERKS BENTLEY / “New Old Trucks”
Writers: James Barker/Casey Brown/Hunter Phelps/Jordan Minton; Producer: Todd Clark; Label: Sony
—Rust, scratches, dents and debris are the patina that makes his ride special. A mid-paced country rocker with heart. Both artists sing with conviction here.

BLAKE SHELTON / “Come Back as a Country Boy”
Writers: Jordan Schmidt/Josh Thompson/Michael Hardy; Producer: Scott Hendricks; Label: Warner
—This redneck rocker is a stomping manifesto in that proud-to-be-country mode. Did I miss the chapter where it says that hillbillies believe in reincarnation?

MISTY RIVER / “Rain”
Writers: Carmen Phelan; Producer: Adam Morley; Label: MR
—This U.K. singer-songwriter-fiddler sings of better days to come on this sweet-sounding ditty. Her vocal is pitched too high, making her sound childlike and frilly.

ZAC BROWN BAND / “The Comeback”
Writers: Zac Brown/Wyatt Beasley Durrette III/Ray Fulcher/Ben Simonetti/Jonathan Singleton; Producer: Zac Brown/Ben Simonetti; Label: Warner
—I love how these guys are out there in their own musical space. Their harmonies slay me every time, as does Zac’s drawled countryboy phrasing. The band is enduringly great, and this uplifting anthem is directed at our collective love of our land.

MORGAN WADE/ “Wilder Days”
Writers: Morgan Wade/Sadler Vaden; Producer: Sadler Vaden & Paul Ebersold; Label: Arista
—A force to be reckoned with. I love the smoky quality in her voice and the smoldering ember of rock in the track. I wish she wasn’t compressed and double tracked, but this is a stunning debut nonetheless. There is a lot of truth in her younger-woman-older-man relationship lyric. She definitely has the “wow” factor and totally deserves instant stardom.

DUSTIN LYNCH & RILEY GREEN / “Huntin’ Land”
Writers: Dustin Lynch/Andy Albert/Hunter Phelps/Will Weatherly; Producer: Zach Crowell; Label: Broken Bow
—Really? He only loves her because her daddy has thousands of acres of hunting land in Kentucky? “Humor” delivered without humor.

WALKER COUNTY / “Liar”
Writers: David Garcia/Hillary Lindsey/Ivy Walker/Sophie Walker; Producer: David Garcia; Label: Warner
—This sassy sister duo (Ivy Dene and Sophie Dawn) is feisty and fierce on this cleverly written power waltz. She’s being saucy and devil-may-care, but it’s all an act because she’s still stuck on him. I love the rousing, in-your-face choruses. This rocks.

JUSTIN MOORE / “With a Woman You Love”
Writers: Justin Moore/Paul DiGiovanni/Chase McGill/Jeremy Stover; Producer: Jeremy Stover/Scott Borchetta; Label: Valory
—Delightfully country. Singing the praises of true love with twang to spare.

Concord Music Publishing Builds Out Nashville Creative Team [Exclusive]

Pictured (top row, L-R): Jen Hubbard, Garrett Stephenson; (bottom row, L-R): Brad Kennard, Ashley Nite, Courtney Allen, Melissa Spillman, & Matt Turner at Concord Music Publishing headquarters in Nashville. Photo: Audrey Spillman

Concord Music Publishing has rounded out their Nashville creative team, adding several new hires to their Nashville office. These new hires are part of Concord’s intentioned effort to continue their success and growth in Nashville.

Melissa Spillman is joining Concord Music Publishing as VP, A&R. With over 17 years of experience in country, pop and rock, Spillman has worked with several notable artists including Lady A, Luke Bryan, Little Big Town, Keith Urban, Eric Church as well as Grammy award winning producer Jay Joyce. Spillman will lead the team in supporting the roster and developing new talent, reporting directly to Brad Kennard, Senior VP, A&R at Concord Music Publishing.

“I feel incredibly blessed to join the team at Concord,” Spillman says. “Concord has long been known for the quality of its music and its unique formula of commercial success and artistic spirit, so to be given the opportunity to promote and elevate its creators as part of the Nashville A&R staff is an honor. Brad has brought together a team of creatives that will prove itself to be one of the best in the business, and I look forward to having fun and sharing much success with this group!”

Matt Turner also joins the Concord team as a Senior Director, A&R. Turner began his career at Anthem Entertainment and then on to independent publisher, Big Loud Shirt, now known as Big Loud. During his time at Big Loud, he worked closely with founder, Craig Wiseman, as well as writers Chris Tompkins, Sarah Buxton, Matt Dragstrem, the Warren Brothers and was involved in the early songwriting careers of Morgan Wallen and Chris Lane. Later, Turner joined the Downtown Music Publishing team, representing the expansive roster of writers there including country music hit makers Andy Albert, Andrew DeRoberts and Joey Hyde, all of whom are now with Concord via the company’s recent purchase of Downtown’s publishing catalog.

“For me, joining Concord was the perfect fit because I wanted to work with good people and good music, and they have both. It’s new, it’s exciting and it’s only the beginning!! I’m extremely happy and grateful to be part of such an amazing team,” Turner shares.

“With all of the growth that Concord as a company has endured, Nashville in particular has seen a really great period of focus on our roster and our team,” say Kennard. “We’re happy to build out this team so that we can support this amazing roster, to serve the roster to the level that they deserve and to continue to compete in the market.”

Additional new hires include Courtney Allen as Director A&R. Allen joins Concord from BMG, where she served as Creative Director, working with their roster of songwriters and developing new talent. Prior to her time at BMG, she was the creative director of publishing at Starstruck Entertainment, where she worked with developing artists on the management roster.

Finally, Ashley Nite is joining Concord Music Publishing as a Manager, A&R; and Garrett Stephenson joins as Coordinator, A&R. Nite spent time as Creative Manager at JRM Publishing and Creative Manager at Mailbox Money Music. Stephenson comes from Downtown Music Publishing.

The new hires join Kennard and Jen Hubbard (Director, A&R) on the Concord Nashville creative team.

Concord Music Publishing has seen great success in Nashville from their joint venture, Hang Your Hat Music, which they formed with two-time ACM Songwriter of the Year, Hillary Lindsey, in November 2020. In 2021, Concord partnered with Creative Nation and PULSE Music Group to sign a multi-faceted agreement with lauded songwriter and artist, Lori McKenna, and acquired her publishing catalog.

“Our goals are to continue to identify and bring in high-level, quality talent,” Kennard sums. “We certainly have a focus on competing at country radio and competing with all of the great publishers in town, utilizing the talents of this diverse team to also serve a diverse roster and compete at the highest level. That’s the mantra: let’s go for the gold and let’s win. Concord really gave us the tools to be able to serve this team and compete.”